When Someone Dies: A Practical Guide

Last updated on 6 May 2015

When someone dies there are many practical issues that need to be sorted out. If you were the one who was closest to the deceased person, a lot of the responsibility may fall to you. This can be very overwhelming, especially when you will probably be dealing with many strong emotions at the same time.

Some people appreciate having lots of practical tasks to do when they're bereaved, while others find that they just can't cope in the immediate period after losing a loved one. Ask family and friends for help and don’t try to cope with everything on your own. This section explains the steps to take following a bereavement.

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What happens first?

If the death occured in hospital or a care home

If the death occurs in hospital, the hospital or care staff will contact the person named by the deceased as the next of kin. They will also arrange for the nearest relative to collect the deceased person's belongings. The hospital mortuary will keep the body until the executor (a personal representative of the deceased) makes arrangements for it to be taken away. You may also want to inform the deceased's minister of religion, or see the hospital chaplain.

Before a death can be formally registered, a doctor will need to issue a medical certificate giving the cause of death. In hospital, this is usually done by a hospital doctor, who will hand the certificate to you in a sealed envelope addressed to the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages. If the cause of death is not clear the coroner will carry out an invesitgation before issuing a death certificate. There is no charge for this certificate.

You will be given a notice explaining how to register the death. There is no charge to register a death. If the person has not been seen by a hospital doctor, their GP may be able to issue a death certificate instead. Where cremation is to take place, a second doctor will be needed to sign a certificate to say that the body has been examined. There will be a charge for this.

If you are aware that the person wished to donate their organs or to donate their body to science following their death it is best to take action quickly and inform staff as soon as possible. 

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If the death occured at home

When someone dies at home, their GP should be called as soon as possible. The GP will normally visit the house and, if the death was expected, should be able to issue a certificate giving the cause of death. If the person did not have a GP or you do not know the name of the GP, an ambulance should be called instead. A doctor is not allowed to issue a certificate if they are unsure about the cause of death. When this happens, the death must be reported to a coroner and the body will be taken to a hospital mortuary, where a post mortem may need to take place.

If you are aware that the person wished to donate their organs or to donate their body to science following their death it is best to take action quickly and inform staff as soon as possible. 

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If the death occured abroad

If a death takes place abroad it must be registered according to the law of that country. The death should also be reported to the British Consul, who may be able to arrange for the death to be registered in the UK as well. Returning a body to the UK is expensive but the cost may be covered by any travel insurance taken out by the person. If the death was on a package holiday the tour operator should be able to help with arrangements. When a body is returned to the UK, the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages for the district where the funeral is to take place must be told and will need to issue a certificate before burial can take place. If cremation is to take place, the Home Office also needs to give permission.

If you are aware that the person wished to donate their organs or to donate their body to science following their death it is best to take action quickly and inform staff as soon as possible. 

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Registering the death

The registration of the death is the formal record of the death. It is done by the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages. The contact details for The Register Office in Newcastle are at the bottom of this page. You will need to contact them first to make an appointment.

When someone dies at home, the death should be registered at the register office for the district where they lived. If the death took place in hospital or in a care home it must be registered at the register office for the district in which the hospital or care home is situated. The hospital administrator can do this if there are no relatives. A death should be registered within five days, but registration can be delayed for another nine days if the registrar is told that a medical certificate has been issued. If the death has been reported to the coroner you can't register it until the coroner's investigations are finished. It is a criminal offence not to register a death.

The death should be registered by one of the following (in order of priority):

  • a relative who was present at the death
  • a relative present during the person's last illness
  • a relative living in the district where the death took place
  • anyone else present at the death
  • an owner or occupier of the building where the death took place and who was aware of the death
  • the person arranging the funeral (but not the funeral director)

If none of the above options are possible, contact the Newcastle City Council Register Office for advice about who else can register the death.

You can't delegate responsibility for registering the death to anyone else. You must take the medical certificate of death with you, as the death can't be registered until the registrar has seen this. If possible, you should also take the person's NHS medical card and birth and marriage certificates.

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The registrar will ask you for the following information:

  • the date and place of death
  • the full name of the person and their last address
  • the person's date and place of birth
  • the person's occupation and, in the case of a woman who was married or widowed, the full name and occupation of her husband
  • if the person was still married, the date of birth of their husband or wife
  • whether the person was receiving a pension or other social security benefits

When you have registered the death, the registrar will give you a green certificate (for which there is no charge) to give to the funeral director or whoever is arranging the funeral. This allows either burial or cremation to go ahead. The registrar will also give you a form to send to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). This allows them to deal with the person's pension and other benefits.

The death certificate is a copy of the entry made by the registrar in the death register. This certificate is needed to deal with money or property left by the person who has died, including dealing with the will. You may need several copies of the certificate, for which there will be a charge.

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Who to inform?

Following a bereavement it is important that the affairs of the deceased are all settled. If left unchecked, outstanding bills, benefits and credit cards can add unwelcome pressure and stress at a time when you're at your most vulnerable.

Tell us Once Service

In the past, a grieving relative may have had to spend hours on the phone, often having to repeat the same information to different parts of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). Now the Tell Us Once service makes it simpler for you and means you only need to tell the government once of the bereavement. The Tell us Once service will then notify 32 local and central government services of the death on your behalf. This includes;

  • Adult Services (social care for adults)
  • Blue Badges
  • Concessionary Travel Passes
  • Council Tax payments and benefits office
  • Council housing
  • Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) - for UK driving licence cancellation
  • Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) - for the Pension Service, Disability and Carer's Service and Jobcentre Plus
  • HM Revenue and Customs - for Child benefit, Child Tax Credit and Working Tax Credit and personal taxation.
  • Housing Benefit office
  • HM Revenue and Customs (for Child Benefit, Tax Credits and personal taxation)
  • Passport Service - for British passport cancellation
  • Pension Service
  • Libraries

How to use the Tell us Once service

When you make an appointment to register a death, the Tell Us Once service will be explained to you and you will be asked if you wish to use it. Once you have registered the death, the registrar will tell you about your options for using Tell Us Once. These are:

  • in person - by making an appointment with your local authority bereavement adviser
  • by phone– the registrar will give you the phone number
  • online - to use Tell Us Once online, your registrar will give you a unique Tell Us Once reference number, which you will need to log in.

Using the Tell Us Once Service means you won’t have to send a copy of the death certificate in the post. This service is not a claim for benefit, but it can help you give the information to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). 

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Who Else Should I Inform?

You should ensure that the following people and agencies are informed of the death, if relevant. (Please note if you use the Tell Us Once Service you do not need to inform the agencies marked with an asterix*):

  • Tell us Once - government scheme to notify a number of government agencies at once. (Please see above for more information)
  • Relatives and friends
  • Employer
  • School 
  • Solicitor/accountant
  • Landlord or Local Authority if the deceased rented their property
  • Any private organisation/agency providing home help 
  • General insurance companies - contents, car, travel, medical etc 
  • Pension providers/life insurance companies 
  • Bank/building society
  • Mortgage provider 
  • Hire purchase or loan companies
  • Credit card providers/store cards
  • Utility companies, if accounts were in the deceased's name
  • TV/Internet companies with which the deceased had subscriptions
  • Any other company with which the deceased may have had rental, hire purchase or loan agreements
  • Royal Mail, if mail needs re-directing
  • The Bereavement Register and 
  • Deceased Preference Service to remove the deceased's name from mailing lists and databases
  • Clubs, trade unions and associations with seasonal membership for cancellation and refunds
  • Church or regular place of worship
  • Social groups to which the deceased belonged
  • Dentist
  • Creditors - anyone to whom the deceased owed money
  • Debtors - anyone that owed the deceased money
  • *The deceased's Tax Office
  • *National Insurance Contributions Office if they were self-employed (to cancel payments)
  • *Child Benefit Office
  • *UK Passport Agency, to return and cancel a passport
  • *DVLA, to return a driving licence, cancel car tax, return car registration documents and/or change ownership
  • *Local Authority if the deceased paid Council Tax, had a parking permit, was issued with a Blue Badge for disabled parking, received social services help, or attended day care

The contact details of some of the above agencies are listed in the related organisations section on the right hand side of this page.

The following documents should be returned, with a note explaining the date of death:

  • Order books/benefits
  • Passport
  • Driving licence
  • Registration documents for the deceased's car (if necessary)
  • Season ticket and membership cards of any clubs or associations, as a refund may be due
  • Benefit/pension books and any unused cheques/vouchers should be returned to the benefits office
  • Library books and tickets
  • National Insurance papers

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Checking your Benefits

The Bereavement Service is a telephone service that lets you:

  • End a benefit claim for someone who has died
  • Find out if you are eligible for benefits because your husband, wife or civil partner has died
  • Make a claim for bereavement benefits or a claim for help with funeral costs, known as a Funeral Payment

The Bereavement Service checks what benefits you may be eligible for. If appropriate, they will take your claim for bereavement benefits or a Funeral Payment over the phone. Bereavement benefits include the following benefits:

  • Bereavement Allowance
  • Bereavement Payment
  • Widowed Parent's Allowance

For more information please contact The Bereavement Service. You may also find our article on the Social Fund helpful.

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Arranging the Funeral

There are many different types of funerals to choose from and financial help may be available. You should always respect the wishes of the deceased person if they have specified the type of funeral they wanted, or you should consider what their preferences may have been. See our section on Arranging a funeral for detailed information on arranging a funeral, costs and memorials.

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